A single photograph may tell a story, but photography books have long been cherished for their full narrative potential. The cover design, image sequencing, accompanying text, and the pages themselves all play vital supporting roles.
Collecting photo books is a more affordable, practical, and portable entry into a photographer’s work, according to Craig Mathis, a manager at the artists’ books nonprofit Printed Matter. Books also “give a wider view of an artist’s intentions and a greater context to single, distilled images,” he said.
Harper Levine, founder of the rare bookseller Harper’s Books, believes that the photo book market “is particularly robust these days” thanks to the breadth of work being published, a deeper appreciation for the medium itself, and nostalgia for the printed page. “It’s really a golden age for new books,” he said.
In fact, at a time when brick-and-mortar stores are struggling, independent bookstores have grown
, and Printed Matter ushers in buzzing crowds to fairs at MoMA PS1
in New York and MOCA
in Los Angeles. Publishing heavyweights like Taschen and Phaidon are balanced by an abundance of indie outfits, such as Libraryman and Conveyor Studio, which make space for small, intimate projects or debut works from emerging artists.
“[There’s an] ease of making, buying, and selling books—there’s so much democratization that all adds to a sense of inclusion,” Levine said. “I think that makes collecting more interesting.”
Photo books are a multiples market, so price points generally remain low, though there have been notable exceptions. Darius Himes, the international head of photography at Christie’s, likens book collecting to treasure hunting. Here, we offer five essential tips to help you navigate the photo book market, from rare dealers and auction houses to the lawless world of Amazon listings.